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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Linux on Wall Street

On Monday I attended the Linux on Wall Street conference. The overall theme of the conference was leveraging open source (and Linux) to power mission-critical business applications, particularly financial services applications. Many of the big boys from all spheres were there (customers, vendors, press, and analysts). I had the opportunity to present a keynote session entitled “Open Source in High-Performance Trading Systems”.

My talk began with a discussion of how popular Linux and open source have become over a relatively short period of time, where the market is today and is projected to go, and what lessons there were for all of us in this era of mass collaboration and the “architecture of participation”. Who of us a few years ago would have imagined that the terms Linux and Wall Street would be in the same sentence, let alone a conference title?

I also drew the comparison between the early rise of the internet and the current trends going on in open source development. Does anyone remember folks who said, “What would our company ever use the internet for?” I recalled the “Sustained Inattentional Blindness for Dynamic Events” study, or what I called the “Gorilla Experiment”. For those of you who don’t know about this, it’s an experiment that was put together by researchers from the University of Illinois and Harvard.

Volunteers were asked to watch a video and count the number of times that two teams of people passed a basketball back and forth to one another. So, in the video, you had these two teams throwing the ball back and forth, and the volunteers were asked to count the number of passes that were made. The video runs for about 45 seconds and at about 30 seconds into the video, a person dressed in a gorilla outfit comes into the video, right into the middle of the action, stays there for about 9 seconds, and then leaves.

Here’s the amazing part. 50% of the volunteers never saw the gorilla. They were so intent on counting passes that they missed the gorilla walking in. To me, it’s this whole idea of conscious unconsciousness. Applied to the open source development model, on some level, people are aware of it, but on another level, they are choosing to do nothing about it. Details of the “gorilla experiment” can be found here.

We then dove into the details of the financial services market, the challenges that companies face with their legacy infrastructures, and the need they all have to offer more “portalized” experiences for their clients. As customers, we all want to access our account information from wherever we are: brick, web, mobile, etc. And, we don’t care what applications, databases, or operating systems are running the systems. These portals need to serve as windows into services on the network and back-office functions. Of course, with their legacy heritage and various M&A’s, most financial institutions are struggling with modernizing their environment and achieving this sort of services oriented architecture (SOA).

But, these problems are solvable with the proper phased approach. And, this is one of the areas that the Open Solutions Alliance (OSA) is working to address. In their common customer view prototype (which will be demoed at the upcoming LinuxWorld in San Fran), a point-of-sale legacy application will be integrated with an open source ERP system, an open source CRM system, and a bunch of other open source components. The customer information will be captured once (at POS) and automatically propagated into every system and every database. The reference architecture will be published for anyone to use, and the entire project is completely transparent … anyone can come to the OSA site and contribute.

Back to Linux on Wall Street, I also flew in a client of ours from the UK to speak about their success. Redmayne-Bentley is one of the UK’s largest independent stockbrokers. And, Michael Wheeler, their CIO/CFO equivalent, is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Redmayne-Bentley was running a legacy Cobol application on SCO Unix and essentially was running out of horsepower, and of course, had very little opportunity to innovate. And, this was their main trading system! So, they were looking to modernize the application environment. They have had a very good relationship with Unisys (kudos to our sales lead there Richard West), and we guided Redmayne-Bentley to an open source modernization solution leveraging three ES7000 systems.

To make a long story short, the migration to the new system was completed with zero down-time, they now see a 10x improvement in overall performance, their overnight processing is now down from 13 hours to just 1.5 hours; and they’ve had 100% reliability and availability since the migration (zero seconds of downtime, other than the normal software maintenance updates).

Yes, Linux and open source have made it to Wall Street, and yes, they belong there. Mass collaboration is changing the world, and Linux and the open source development model have helped usher in this phenomenon. Here’s to the road ahead.

Finally, to my faithful readers, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a comment about the Roosevelt Hotel, the venue hosting the event. Those of you who follow my blog already know my perspective on the Roosevelt. Beautiful hotel, lousy rooms.

So, not only was my room as cramped and suffocating as the last time I stayed there, but I must have also gathered some negative karma that resulted in my leaving my cell phone charger in the room. When I phoned the next day to check on whether anyone had “found” it, they told me that the current occupant indicated that nothing was plugged into the wall. I don’t suppose they ever considered asking the housekeeping staff.


Michael said...

From Michael Wheeler (as per text): very kind of you Anthony. It was an honour to share a platform with you and a lots of fun too.
I would urge anyone in the open source world to take every opportunity to hear Anthony speak on the subject if you can.
A combination of good design (the ES7000 product), luck and solid hard work from Unisys engineers and our own team has given us an even more stable and near 'bomb-proof' open source platform (using SLES 9) for our mission critical applications than our most optimistic expectations. While there were no shortcuts and no silver bullets found on the way we are most happy for the open source world to know that this can be done.

The Roosevelt Hotel (built ~1923) is grand and impressive at lobby and conference floor levels and these facilities are among the best I've seen. The guest rooms are 'small' and disjointed by most American standards. Full of corners and angles that suggest the current rooms have been condensed out of larger ones in the past. I suppose they have to make money out of a limted 'footprint' in the middle of a great city. It is a shame to lose property in a great hotel - in most UK hotels the odds would have been in your favour to have the charger returned/forwarded on.

Dooglio said...

I am so sorry I had to miss your talk Michael--it sounds like an amazing thing you did! I was sort of stuck at my booth the whole time (no complaints, though--I had a smashing time at LoWS). See me grinning from ear to ear here.

Here's a good one of Andy

Oh, and with regards to the discussion of the Roosevelt, I watched Wall Street after returning from New York and had to laugh! The famous "Greed is Good"
speech that Michael Douglas delivers takes place there!

Doug Barbieri
CTO of Made to Order Software

Michael said...

Unisys were kind enough to fly me to NYC on EoS airlines Stansted (UK) to JFK.

I had not heard of the airline before even though Stansted is my nearest major airport.

It was very nice to travel with them - all was much as they say in their adverts.

Note the full page advert for EoS in the Financial Times today if you have access to a copy.

The plane (a 757) does indeed only have 48 seats (their loyalty scheme is called 'Club 48'!) - the 'seats' are really 'ottomans' where you can raise the middle section and lie flat - using the provided pillows and blankets to sleep.

Seating is a 'good' business class and compares to what I remember to travelling 'BA' some years ago.
Each passenger receives their own 'cordless DVD/game' player with a selection of USA/GB films and TV shows and headphones - and they do really work (these things never work for me on '###### Airways). About half way through the flight you are offered a 'battery swap' in case the machine is running low on charge.

EOS claim their onboard staff are 'experienced' the plane crew were very efficient and attentive. In particular EoS claim their pilots have at least 20 years flying behind them and they seem to have reassuring names like 'Hank' and 'Chuck' and be so relaxed that the whole process is very straightforward.

The on board food is pretty good - choice is restricted of course but if you want anything specific you just have to arrange before hand.
As many free drinks as you have desire and nerve to ask for are available; choice of wines, ports etc. and also including BASS Export pale ale (which is now rare in most English bars, never mind an aircraft). I had lamb on the way out and a splendid fillet steak on the way back - portions are what I would call 'American' (in some London restaurants you can order small, medium, large or American) but you would probably call 'normal'; more than enough for me on an aircraft.

Further on food, chatting to a couple of people on board - and a lot of passengers apparently are very regular travellers on that airline and choose it where possible - EoS shares the Emirates Lounge at JFK airport; so what the smart people do is arrive a couple of hours early and eat heartily at the top class buffet in the Emirates Lounge, have a couple of drinks when they Board the plane and then sleep very soundly all the way to Stansted and the crew often have to wake them up for landing. Must be an interesting life if you can afford to travel EoS on a regular basis.

The lounge at Stansted is acceptable - just snacks and drinks - apparently EoS are expanding these facilities soon.

The travel to/from airports was faultless - I'm not used to having a driver pick up service but it is really so useful when as in my case time was very short. And as EoS claim the check in process is also speedy compared to what I've had to endure before, with only 48 passengers at a time they are able to meet and greet each one and take the fastest possible route through. In Stansted where I didn't bother with any shopping I was in the EoS lounge about 10 minutes after arriving at the airport. At JFK my time was short but I needed to stock up on Hershey chocolates or the girls in my Accounts department would have been disappointed; so I missed out the feeding experience in the Emirates lounge.

For any multinational with significant offices in the UK - within 50 miles drive of Stansted - this is the radius that the EoS 'pick-up' service - this is a viable transatlantic alternative for an executive (or engineer) who can easily fly out of JFK. This might well be more efficient than flying to Heathrow (the traffic situation at Heathrow is a rolling disaster) and certainly better than Gatwick (which is well south of London). Stansted is also the best airport these days for a meeting on the eastern side of London (i.e. 'Canary Wharf') and a lot of EoS passengers on my flight back were heading there. If the visit is an 'emergency' the engineer would certainly be much more productive on arrival compared to economy travel.